Skinfold thickness assessment is one of many methods that can be used to accomplish this task. How skinfolds assessment works, its popularity among sport professionals, how to pick the right equation to use, and sources of error are reviewed in this article. For example, examining the difference in circumference of the waist and hip is deemed the waist-to-hip ratio, and is a common anthropometric assessment for general health. In sport, body composition is oftentimes estimated by measuring the thicknesses of various skinfold sites on the body. This measurement estimates the thickness of the subcutaneous fat tissue that lies underneath the skin. BMI can be used to screen for weight categories that may lead to health problems, but it is not diagnostic of body fatness or health of an individual because it does not consider body fat percentage.
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Skinfold thickness assessment is one of many methods that can be used to accomplish this task. How skinfolds assessment works, its popularity among sport professionals, how to pick the right equation to use, and sources of error are reviewed in this article. For example, examining the difference in circumference of the waist and hip is deemed the waist-to-hip ratio, and is a common anthropometric assessment for general health. In sport, body composition is oftentimes estimated by measuring the thicknesses of various skinfold sites on the body.
This measurement estimates the thickness of the subcutaneous fat tissue that lies underneath the skin. BMI can be used to screen for weight categories that may lead to health problems, but it is not diagnostic of body fatness or health of an individual because it does not consider body fat percentage.
Various skinfold techniques and body composition estimation equations exist more on this later. In effort to standardize measurements, guidelines for the anatomical location of skinfold sites and measurement technique have been published [4, 5], most recently by the International Society of Kinanthropometry ISAK , . The ISAK protocol, collecting a maximum of 8 skinfold sites, is the most frequently used among skinfold techniques .
In the Americas and in Europe, other skinfold techniques are more popular. In all locations, a form of skinfold assessment was the most popular method for quantifying body composition . Ackland et al. Current status of body composition assessment in sport. Many assumptions tend to be made when using skinfolds to assess body composition. Ultimately, once the skinfolds are measured, the sum of skinfold thicknesses, and ratios between measurement sites, are inserted into a calculation to predict the fat mass and fat-free mass of the athlete.
As of , more than different body fat prediction equations using various combinations of anthropometric measurements had been reported in the literature [1, 7, 8]. The number of available equations to choose from continues to increase. Where it All Began Given the the method simplicity and lack of required technology, skinfold measurement has been used to predict body density and total body fat for a long time. Using observations made by Edwards on 53 different skinfold sites , Ancel Keys and Josef Brozek published the first valid skinfold equations to estimate body fat percentage in .
Since then, over prediction equations using various combinations of anthropometric variables have been developed and reported in the literature, with more than 19 different sites for measuring skinfold thickness having been described in detail [1, 7, 8]. The SEE is a measure of the accuracy of predictions when compared with highly accurate methods, such as dual energy x-ray absorptiometry DXA and air displacement plethysmography ADP.
DXA can estimate the breakdown of 1 lean mass, 2 fat mass, and 3 bone mineral content, by body segment, because each tissue differentiates photons differently. The subject is required to exhale all of the air from their lungs or as much as possible , and then be weighed underwater, which requires full body submersion.
UWW estimates the breakdown of 1 lean mass, and 2 fat mass, inside the body. The New Age of Skinfold Equations and 3 vs. Peterson et al. Relevant to the athletic cohort, Evans et al. This research group produced very accurate 7-site and 3-site prediction equations; gender and race are also considered .
The total body of research suggests that there is merely a slight difference, if any at all, between the precision of 3-site and 7-site skinfold prediction equations. An Ultrasound Teaser Despite the advancements in skinfold testing, new research using ultrasound US imaging techniques shows that any caliper-based skinfold assessment method lacks validity relative to its US-based counterpart .
This is primarily because skinfold-pinching measures a compressed double layer of subcutaneous adipose tissue and skin, whereas the US technique measures only the metric of interest, uncompressed subcutaneous adipose tissue, with high accuracy .
US will be discussed in more detail in a following article. Using a beam of skin-penetrating ultrasonic waves i. Similar to skinfold assessment, ultrasound is used to assess regional subcutaneous fat tissue. However, ultrasound measures the subcutaneous fat tissue thickness in a decompressed state i.
Using a prediction equation, US estimates the breakdown of 1 lean mass, and 2 fat mass, inside the body. Of these 31 equations, 14 and 17 were developed in athletic, and nonathletic populations, respectively. Ironically, an equation using a mere two skinfold sites abdomen and thigh developed in male nonathletes by Wilmore and Behnke  was more closely related with DXA, compared with the other equations developed in athletes.
The results of this study differ from those obtained from anthropometric comparisons in other male soccer players. In 45 professional male soccer players from the Premier League , a 7-site skinfold equation developed by Withers et al. Recently, Suarez-Arrones et al. With the exception of one equation created by Deurenberg et al.
However, the strength of the relationships differed among equations used, with an equation developed in by John Faulkner  having the strongest relationship with DXA . The results from these studies demonstrate the lack of agreement between equations, and inconsistent outcomes when compared with accurate body composition assessment methods, such as DXA. Suarez-Arrones et al. Body fat assessment in elite soccer players: cross-validation of different field methods.
Science and Medicine in Football, pp. As demonstrated by Zemski et al. Substantial intra- and inter-observer variability exists [35, 36]. For example, varying the skinfold site by as little as 1 centimeter can produce significantly different results when experienced practitioners measure the same participant [7, 40].
Summary The research regarding which skinfold equation s most accurately predict body fat percentage in athletes is inconsistent, at best. Factors including age, sport, race, gender, and others, appear to impact equation validity.
However, skinfold assessment can also be quite reliable and should be considered as a convenient, practical indicator of intra-individual regional and total body composition change over time. Although 3-site and 7-site skinfold equations are similar in accuracy, I lean towards collecting data on more sites. In the case that a novel, highly accurate equation is developed, the practitioner will be better suited to apply the novel, more accurate equation with his or her data set.
Here are a few major advantages and disadvantages of skinfolds testing: Advantages High reliability if testeris experienced and consistent Low validity, and very low validity in larger subjects Low cost.
International Standards for Anthropometric Assessment
His academic fields were kinanthropometry specifically growth and development, test methodology, talent identification , and health, fitness and physical activity promotion. He was also member of several other international scientific organizations. He published widely in the field of kinanthropometry, human growth and health promotion and has spoken at many conferences around the world. Course on Kinanthropometric Techniques as the accreditation courses were then named in Brussels and the 2nd one in Sherbrook, Canada, He co organized, coordinated or advised the kinanthropometry sections at the Olympic Scientific Congresses , , , , and and the Commonwealth Games Sc. For more than twenty years he was involved - as a hobby - in over a thousand TV and radio appearances in Belgium promoting a healthy and fit lifestyle. He also covered on the national and Eurosport chains the most important gymnastics competitions between and among which were six Olympic Games.
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